Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page

Winter 1946/47

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 7th February, 1947, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Still in Grip of Big Blizzard - Rushden Area’s Worst Spell Since 1940

Blizzard conditions maintained their grip on the Rushden district yesterday. They have now held sway for more than a fortnight, and though this area has missed the worst extremes of the Arctic spell, the weather has been the severest since 1940.

Partial thaws and fresh freeze-ups have created the worst road and path conditions for some years.

Tank and PX lorry
Undaunted by ice on the road to the north, a PX lorry crew met with some tricky problems as in the hold-up on a hill depicted above.

A stranded military tank gives another reminder of the great difficulties which have confronted our transport men this week.

Snow showers have occurred almost daily, and though no great quantity has fallen since Sunday the pavements have remained encrusted with ice and a top layer varying from powdery snow to deep slush.

All roads have been kept open, but surfaces were dangerous at times, especially on Tuesday night when a glassy coating resulted from a fall in temperature following a sleet shower.

Plumbers have been working at great pressure mending hundreds of pipes which burst during a thaw at the week-end. Yesterday some of them were dealing with calls received on Sunday and Monday. Keen frost on Wednesday night promised further trouble when the next “yield” occurred.

Football was cancelled last Saturday on local grounds, including that of Rushden Town where there was no means of clearing the snow and ice.

In spite of the pitfalls, no serious accident involving personal injury was reported at Rushden during the week.

Unable to cope with largely increased consumption, Rushden District Gas Company has been reducing gas pressure at times, especially in the afternoons and evenings. The area has also been affected to some extent by variations in the electricity supply.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 14th March, 1947, transcribed by Gill Hollis

They Started for Rushden - “E.T.” Explorers Only Reached Finedon
By Tony Amundsen

For the first time in the history of the “Evening Telegraph,” we were forced last Thursday to deliver some of the papers by sledge, which is why some Finedon folk got damp and dog-eared copies.

But here is the story of an epic expedition which pushed through a stretch of road which even a bulldozer had failed to clear.

It all began on the night of the fifth, as the Inspector always says in detective novels, while we were in bed dreaming of summer days, ice cream tooti-frootis and swimming at Overstone Solarium.

As we were thus occupied, the blizzard took a mean advantage of us. Banging the Air Ministry’s thaw expert over the head with a couple of isobars, it crept across Northamptonshire and deposited a drift five miles long between Burton Latimer and Irthlingborough.

In the middle of it was Finedon, and no vehicle short of a Sherman tank with a jet engine on the front of it could get into Finedon or out of Finedon.

To ordinary mortals this would not have mattered much. Who wants to go to Finedon, anyway?

What the Pilot Said

But newspaper Circulation Departments are different. “Good heavens,” said our Circulation Department, “That means Finedon won’t get any papers to-night. Or Irthlingborough. Or Higham Ferrers. Or Rushden. We shall have to send ‘em by plane.”

So they rang up for a helicopter, but the pilot said he was sorry but look at the weather and what the helicopter was the fun of going out in blizzards?

“All right,” said the C.D. “We’ll send ‘em by sledge.” And having made this momentous decision they lit cigars and huddled closer to their electric fire (both bars on).

Now it is a well-known fact that circulation people only go out of the office on the brightest of sunny days, riding in a limousine with windows closed to exclude nasty draughts.

Part of the Epic

They whiz from Burton to Finedon in four minutes, and think a sledge negotiating five feet of snow can do likewise. But it can’t.

I can speak with authority on this, because when the sledge party started its epic (yes, I know I’ve used that word before) trek up the hill out of Burton, I was one of it.

Don’t ask me why – put it down to a combination of C.D. pressgang tactics, weak good nature on my part, and lack of knowledge of exactly how many tons of snow had fallen between Burton and Finedon.

We travelled to Burton by van, which swayed, shuddered, banged our heads on the roof, skidded, jitter-bugged on each wheel in turn, and finally stopped, baffled by a mountain of snow half way up the hill to Finedon.

Snowshoes - Or Were They?

Before this Ben Nevis of whiteness all the wizardry of Dagenham Works was helpless, so we abandoned it. I must amplify the “we” so that the names of the expedition may go down in history.

There were Roly, Tommy, Son and me. We got the two sledges out of the van, loaded on the papers, and looked around for the snowshoes.

“You’ll be all right,” the C.D. had said through a haze of cigar smoke as we left, “we’ve put some snow shoes in.”

Eventually we found them. They were slats of wood with bits of rope fixed on to tie them to our feet – guaranteed to plait the wearer’s tibias and fibulas into a hopeless tangle within fifty yards and give him a couple of fractured ankles into the bargain.

We threw them over the snow hillock that hid the hedge, and felt better.

The Amundsen Touch

To get us going, evidently, a bit of Frozen North technique was called for, so I shouted “Mush!” in the best Amundsen style, skidded on a bit of ice and disappeared in a six foot drift off the edge of the road.

This put the party in a much better mood, and we made such rapid progress that within half an hour we had gone at least 150 yards. In this distance the sledges over-turned 67 times, each member of the party fell down 84 times, the sledge ropes broke 13 times and we found we had all got cigarettes but no matches.

By now dinner time was a couple of hours away and we were weakening. Son reconnoitred and reported a veritable Arctic Circle of snow ahead, with a jeep, two trailers, two lorries and two cars ditched and abandoned in the next half-mile.

So we changed our tactics, deciding to take one sledge through at a time. With two pushing and two pulling, this was easier.

The Sledge Bust

Despite a keen east wind whipping over the crest of the hill carrying powdered snow from the drifts along with it, we began to get almost light-hearted and then – the sledge broke!

There was nothing for it but to pick the bundles for Finedon-Irthlingborough newsagents out of the snow and carry them, and so we staggered on.

And then, out of the frozen wastes, appeared a Burton schoolboy, Tony Laing, with a useful sledge. We put two of the bundles on that, he helped to pull it, and we continued, mournfully.

“In India,” said Son, carrying his papers on his head coolie-fashion, “I’ve haggled with the wogs about how many annas I’d give them to carry this amount of stuff.

“Now I’d give one of them a quid to carry this lot to Finedon – and me as well if I could perch on top.”

We battled on. We passed a lorry over at 45 degrees in a drift, we glimpsed the top of the Volta Tower like castaways spotting a seagull, we floundered Wellington boot-top deep here and there, not knowing whether we were on or off what was once the road.

Came a Bulldozer

It was incredible that this deserted morass of snow with not a vehicle in sight was the once-busy A6.

Then suddenly in front was the roar of a Diesel and a flash of yellow paint. A bulldozer, coming up from Finedon, was patiently cutting a track through the mammoth drifts.

Gratefully we hauled the sledge into the lane it had made, piled on all the bundles except for Roly who strode on manfully with his, and slid easily downhill to Finedon cross-roads.

From the R.A.C. box we rang up the C.D. and reported that we had reached Finedon. “Gracious,” they coughed,inhaling accidentally, “you ought to have been there a couple of hours ago. WE could have done it easily.

Question is “Will We?”

“And you needn’t bother to go on to Rushden and Higham now – the road’s open from Wellingborough so we’re sending papers that way.”

To get back to Kettering we had to trudge, struggle, climb, stumble and stagger back over the drifts to Burton and pick up the van.

Dusk was falling when we reached base. The Circulation Department had gone home to tea, all except one who breezed as be switched on his fire (both bars), “Jolly good idea that. Don’t know what you fellows would do without some good men on the circulation side. Will you run them through again to-morrow if the weather’s bad?”

Will we? Ask Son, Roly and Tommy!

Nine Men and a Girl

Note: Bunny, who eventually took the Rushden district edition by van, says the sledge parties stole all the limelight. He got through from Burton to Finedon station following a snowplough which got stuck there, and had to be dug out.

Going on towards Wellingborough without the plough escort, he had to charge through canyons of snow against Wellingborough golf links, and on the Higham-road had to stop and help dig out a lorry before he could get past.

On the way back the van became completely marooned at Wellingborough, and would have had to be abandoned but for the timely help of nine men and one girl.

They and Bunny picked up the van bodily and carried it back on to the road. Total time, Kettering to Rushden and back, five hours.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 21st March, 1947, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Blizzard Cost Town Over £1,600
600 tons of Grit and 17 tons of Salt Used

The drifted snow
Fighting the blizzard in Rushden meant a public expenditure of at least £1,600, and the damage yet to be repaired will add considerably to this sum.

Council officers worked out the cost for us on Thursday and gave the figure of £1,600 as additional expenditure on road gritting and snow clearance. Part of the money is recoverable from the County Council, who are responsible for main roads, but as conditions were the same throughout the country there is little consolation in this.

Six hundred tons of grit and 17½ tons of salt were used by the Rushden road staff. These materials cost £250, and the rest of the money went in extra labour.

25 More Men

Forty Council employees and 25 additional men were engaged on the work. Some of the men were engaged through the Employment Exchange and others were borrowed from the building industry, whose own activities were, of course, largely in suspense.

Still more men would have been engaged had they been obtainable, but the chief hold-up was a shortage of shovels and other tools.

digging lifting a block of snow making progress
The diggers working along the Wellingborough Road

Work went on continuously and the week-end break was more or less ignored. A 14-hour day was often put in.

At the height of the struggle with the elements eight vehicles were in use for gritting and snow clearance.

Two snow ploughs were used – one of metal and one of wood. Worn away to the extent of three inches in the front, the metal plough will now have to be re-shod. This plough is only two years old.

The wooden plough has suffered even more severely, and will probably have to be scrapped altogether. There are further items for the ultimate bill of costs.

On several days two lorries were needed to tug one of the ploughs, so great was the combined strain of weight and resistance.

Delayed Refuse Collection

The blizzard had a great effect on refuse collection, which fell about three weeks behind schedule. Additional vehicles have now been transferred to this work, but there is a shortage of labour – as the builders’ men are no longer available.

When the snow dispersed the streets were covered with grit and accumulated refuse, presenting a big problem for the cleaning staff. Then came the hurricane on Sunday night, and the task was still greater, for fragments of brick and slate were everywhere.

There is also quite a lot of road damage to be repaired, as the frost disintegrated the top surface in many places.

Water supply work is heavy, too. The Water Board’s men are out every night repairing damaged mains.

Further water trouble occurred during the “big blow” on Sunday when the electricity failed and for eight hours it was impossible to pump water from the works at Wollaston.

Click here to return to the main index of features
Click here to return to the History index
Click here to e-mail us